Iran’s stage-managed reaction to re-imposed sanctions by the Trump Administration has been part bluster and part diplomatic, a reflection of the Iranian regime’s new, nervous helter-skelter posturing. But some Conservative leaders close to the president are not buying the diplomatic part and want President Trump to slap Iran with even harsher punishments that would devastate the Iranian economy.
The sanctions took effect Monday as part of the president’s exit from the Iran Nuclear accord, announced in May and decried by Washington’s European allies. The U.S. and Iran effectively broke off all diplomatic contact after participation in the deal was terminated. Since then, Iran’s political and religious leaders have alternatively tried to either downplay or prep Iranians for the re-imposition of sanctions, depending on the circumstance.
Sunday, Iranians in dozens of cities celebrated the 39th anniversary of the day Iranian students overran the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days amid Iran’s so-called “Islamic Revolution.” They have celebrated the occasion every year with rallies since 1979, marking it as the “National Day of Fighting Global Arrogance.”
Thousands of civil servants, high school students, members of the security forces and others gathered near the embassy site in Tehran chanting slogans against the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel. This year, however, the day was all about portraying a patriotic duty of all Iranians to support the government’s defiance of U.S. sanctions.
Speaking from a platform, the commander of Iran’s all-powerful Revolutionary Guard said the U.S. sanctions were part of “40 years of failed plots of American administrations.”
“God willing, these new sanctions, which are part of the soft war against the Iranian nation, will fail too,” said the commander, Lt. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari. Of course, the call to action was buttressed by the standard “death to America, death to Israel” mantra.
Jerks and Jokes
According to The Los Angeles Times, some Iranian observers found Sunday’s rallies to be farcical. One young man who works as a motorcycle courier refused to join the crowd and blasted the Iranian establishment for failing to manage the economy.
“All the speakers on the platform are jerks, and what they say is a joke,” said the man, who did not want to be identified while criticizing the theocracy. “I think these sanctions will be more painful and these politicians can’t do anything to reduce our pain.”
At the end of the rallies, the government issued a resolution that blasted the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal and vowed not to renegotiate with Washington. The resolution also underscored “continued support for the nations which are under oppression by the U.S.” and the “fake and child-killer” Israeli regime.
“We declare our firm opposition to repetition of any negotiation on any issues with the disloyal and evil US regime,” the resolution read.
Despite the public vow to never renegotiate with the U.S., Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told USA TODAY his government would consider fresh diplomacy if there were “foundations for a fruitful dialogue” on the Iran nuclear reduction deal.
Zarif’s comments provided a rare and contrarian indication from Iran’s senior leadership that Tehran might consider joining talks with Washington if certain diplomatic conditions were met.
“Mutual trust is not a requirement to start negotiations – mutual respect is a requirement,” Zarif said in a wide-ranging, 45-minute interview. The statement was quite an about face from Sunday’s official line of intransigence, which was widely reported by the Iranian government’s FARS News Agency and broadcast on Iranian national television. Given that, for most Iranians, finding a copy of USA Today in Iran would be unlikely and accessing it online dangerous, the Zarif’s hypocritic double-speak probably flew under the radar inside Iran.
Bolton Not Buying
Mutual respect in this situation is either a very low or impossibly high bar to meet depending on your view. Regardless, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton later dismissed the comments as potential propaganda.
Bolton’s view of Iran is backed by several Conservative members of Congress, who want even more drastic measures taken against Iran in addition to the re-imposition of sanctions. According to Politico, Republican hawks fear that the president is “going soft” on Iran and planning to introduce legislation later this month that would force President Trump to take a harder approach.
The legislation, which will reportedly be introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and cosponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), would pressure Trump into cutting off Iranian banks’ access to the global banking network, Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).
SWIFT, dominated by the U.S., settles all transactions between nations in dollars. Cutting off Iran would block access to dollars for any entities doing business with Iran, effectively putting a stranglehold on the Iranian economy.
In hopes of undermining Trump’s new Iran policy and salvaging the nuclear accord, European powers are developing an alternative to SWIFT payments that could facilitate trade with Iran and evade U.S. sanctions.
The lawmakers want to push Trump to side with Bolton — who has argued that renewed sanctions would be more effective if Iran’s access to SWIFT is cut off — instead of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who argues that access is crucial to ensuring humanitarian aid gets to the country.
However, the legislation could be in jeopardy if Democrats win the House majority. If that were to happen, supporters of the measure are hopeful that pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC will “pressure pro-Israel Democrats” into backing it, according to POLITICO.
Even after Iranian sanctions were lifted, and the Obama administration gifted Iran planes stuffed with billions in hard cash, the Iranian economy still did not recover. Corruption and mismanagement have long rendered its oil-dependent economy more of a mafia-run fiefdom than the economy of a sovereign nation.
As of this writing, Iranian leaders seemed about as confident in their ability to weather the renewed U.S. sanctions as the Democrats do about retaking both houses of Congress.